NFL fans and fantasy football players alike are always searching for the next breakout player. For wide receivers in particular, it can take a couple seasons to adjust to NFL defenses and find the soft spots in zones. For this exercise, I didn't include rookies or wideouts who are already household names like Dez Bryant or Demaryius Thomas. The six players below are all in differing situations, but I expect them to step up their games dramatically this coming season.
Here are six young wide receivers who I like to break out this season.
After catching 80 passes for nearly 1,000 yards and eight touchdowns last year, you can argue that Cobb doesn't belong on this list and has already broken out. In a way he has, but I still feel the best is yet to come for Cobb and this season he will assert himself as a perennial Pro Bowl-type of player.
Cobb can do many things extremely well, and few players in the league have his combination as a runner and receiver, but I expect him to become the NFL's premier slot receiver. Just get the ball into his hands and let him use his amazing playmaking skills to do the rest. He has elite vision, ability to set up opposing tacklers and his blockers, along with the ability to take it to the house on any touch with great burst and very good speed.
Cobb also will receive quite a few carries distributed in many different ways. He had 10 carries in 2012, but expect that number to double this year, as he will play many more snaps in 2013. Cobb might be sharing targets with some other very good receivers in Green Bay, but if he isn't already, the sure-handed Cobb is going to Aaron Rodgers' favorite target and a massive breakout is in store for this 22-year-old.
The only concern I have with Gordon stems from his off-the-field behavior. To further illustrate that point, the Browns will be without Gordon for the first two games of the season due to his suspension for banned substances. But other than that, the circumstances are very good now for Gordon to succeed on the field in a big way. The Browns were a dink-and-dunk offense last year, which didn't fit their passing personnel. Now, with Rob Chudzinski and Norv Turner on board, the scheme-to-personnel fit in Cleveland is superb.
This group wants to hammer the football with a star running back behind an excellent offensive line with a strong-armed pocket passer leading the offense and attacking vertically with great regularity. Gordon is a big, fast vertical receiver with an extra gear that is perfect for what the Browns now want him to do. He also should be a major factor near the goal line with his size, strength and ability to high-point the football. Brandon Weeden struggled as a rookie, but I think much of that had to do with the scheme misfit. Weeden will get the ball deep, which is great news for Gordon. Gordon adapted well during his rookie season, catching 50 passes for 805 yards. But this guy has all the ability in the world and could take his game up to Terrell Owens-like levels sooner rather than later.
Floyd's situation has improved quite a bit. Carson Palmer is a far superior quarterback than anyone who took snaps for the Cardinals during Floyd's rookie season. Palmer can make all the throws and possesses good anticipation and game management skills. Palmer's protection, with the drafting of Jonathan Cooper and the return from injury of Levi Brown, should be noticeably improved as well. Also, the addition of Bruce Arians should be very beneficial for Floyd, as Arians is now moving Larry Fitzgerald all over the formation, which should not only result in far better production from Fitzgerald, but also could free Floyd up for many one-on-one matchups. And we know Arians wants to throw deep. Of course Fitzgerald is a highly capable deep ball receiver, but Floyd has better long speed and should be the benefactor of all that deep passing.
Floyd has great speed, strength and fluidity in his movements for a man his size. He only played a little over 50 percent of Arizona's offensive snaps last season, but that should change in a major way during his sophomore season. He is only 23, and because the Cardinals' season spiraled downward at a very rapid rate last year few realized that Floyd came on stronger to finish his first season as a pro.
Blackmon will miss the first four games of the season and might have the worst quarterback situation in the league. But we saw enough of him, especially later in the season, to suggest that he is on the verge of a breakout. Blackmon did produce noticeably more with Chad Henne behind center rather than Blaine Gabbert, but this article isn't necessarily all about production. Blackmon isn't the fastest wide receiver in the league, but he plays the position with physicality, has strong hands and is very good with the ball in his hands after securing the reception. Drops were a problem for him as a rookie, and without elite speed he must get that corrected. He also should be a very effective red zone receiver with his size and ability to haul in contested throws.
Blackmon only eclipsed 100 receiving yards once as a rookie, but that outing was a 246-yard explosion against the Texans. He also had quite a few down games, which I expect to be few and far between going forward. There are a lot of problems right now in Jacksonville, but the Jaguars do have a fine pair of starting wideouts in Blackmon and Cecil Shorts, assuming Blackmon stays clean off the field.
I am going out on a limb here a bit with this one and obviously am operating under the assumption that Broyles will be healthy to either start the year or early in the 2013 season, as he is recovering from his second very serious knee injury right now. But I am enamored with Broyles' fit in Detroit and think he could quickly become a reception monster from the slot and on the opposite side ofCalvin Johnson in the Lions' two-wide receiver sets.
Broyles certainly is nowhere near the physical specimen that Johnson is, but he is a superb route runner with sticky hands and enough after-the-catch skills to both keep the chains moving and create some big plays with the ball in his hands. Matthew Stafford force-fed Johnson a year ago, and of course Megatron will get a ton of targets going forward, but another reliable option in this passing game is very much needed. With the attention Johnson creates, which is probably more than any wide receiver in football, and now with the addition of Reggie Bush as a runner and receiver from the running back position, the door is wide open for one more solid weapon to emerge. Broyles is the perfect candidate for that as soon as he gets back to full health.
Wright is the player on this list that I feel least confident about breaking out in 2013. I have no doubts about his game, but he doesn't have the size or physicality of guys like Blackmon, Floyd or Gordon, isn't as electric as Cobb and doesn't have the route running ability of a player like Broyles. The Titans now also have a lot of mouths to feed in this offense and I am not certain that Jake Locker will be able to get the ball where it consistently needs to be. But that doesn't mean that Wright can't be great -- even if his numbers are not off the charts in his second season.
Wright was a downfield vertical threat at Baylor with Robert Griffin III throwing him bombs, but we didn't see much of that in Tennessee. Instead he operated more as a move-the-chains option, sometimes lining up in the slot (which could be a spot that he gets more time at moving forward). Wright turns 24 in November and already shows a mature game. He led the Titans in targets last year and showed some chemistry with Locker, which is very promising, but Tennessee needs to unleash his big-play abilities more.